Red buckeye is a small North American native tree, capable of reaching 25 to 30 feet tall in the wild though is most often at 15 to 20 feet high when grown in cultivation. Red buckeye is most popular for its springtime display of 3- to 6-inch-long, upright, terminal panicles composed of 1.5-inch-wide, red flowers, which are quite attractive to hummingbirds. These blooms are followed by flat, round capsules that contain bitter and poisonous seeds. The large, dark green, palmate leaves usually offer no great color change in fall and often drop as early as late September.
Scientific name: Aesculus pavia
Pronunciation: ESS-kew-lus PAY-vee-uh
Common name(s): red buckeye
USDA hardiness zones: 6A through 9A (Fig. 6)
Origin: native to the southeastern United States, extending west to northeastern Texas and as far north as southern Illinois
UF/IFAS Invasive Assessment Status: native
Uses: reclamation; tree lawn 3–4 feet wide; tree lawn 4–6 feet wide; tree lawn > 6 ft. wide; street without sidewalk; deck or patio; specimen; container or planter; highway median; shade
Height: 15 to 20 feet
Spread: 15 to 25 feet
Crown uniformity: symmetrical
Crown shape: round, pyramidal
Crown density: moderate
Growth rate: moderate
Leaf arrangement: opposite/subopposite
Leaf type: palmately compound; made up of 5 to occasionally 7 leaflets
Leaf margin: serrate, double serrate
Leaf shape: elliptic (oval), obovate
Leaf venation: pinnate
Leaf type and persistence: deciduous
Leaf blade length: 7 to 12 inches; leaflets are 2 to 6 inches
Leaf color: dark green and smooth on top, paler green underneath
Fall color: no color change
Fall characteristic: not showy
Flower color: bright red
Flower characteristics: very showy; emerge in clusters on panicles
Fruit shape: round
Fruit length: ½ to 1 ½ inches
Fruit covering: dry or hard
Fruit color: brown
Fruit characteristics: attracts squirrels/mammals; showy; fruit/leaves a litter problem
Trunk and Branches
Trunk/branches: branches droop; not showy; typically multi-trunked; no thorns
Bark: light gray and smooth, becoming irregularly ridged and breaking into plates with age
Pruning requirement: needed for strong structure
Current year twig color: brown
Current year twig thickness: thick
Wood specific gravity: unknown
Light requirement: full sun or partial shade, shade tolerant
Soil tolerances: clay; sand; loam; acidic; well-drained; occasionally wet soil
Drought tolerance: high
Aerosol salt tolerance: none
Roots: not a problem
Winter interest: yes
Outstanding tree: yes
Ozone sensitivity: unknown
Verticillium wilt susceptibility: resistant
Pest resistance: resistant to pests/diseases
Use and Management
The coarse, open structure and the light brown, flaky bark is quite attractive and offers great winter landscape interest. Branches arise from the typically straight trunk at a wide angle, forming a durable structure. There are many, small-diameter branches with an occasional upright, aggressive one growing as large as the trunk. Main branches begin forming low on the trunk and remain there when grown in the full sun.
The tree is best used as a novelty patio tree or as part of a shrubbery border to add bright red color for several weeks in the spring and coarse texture during the rest of the year. Plant it in a medium- to large-sized residential landscape as a very coarse accent. Extremely coarse in winter without leaves, red buckeye will attract attention with the bright brown or tan bark reflecting the rays of the sun. Lower branches can be removed to allow for clearance beneath the crown, but the tree looks its best planted in the open to allow branches to fully develop to the ground.
Red buckeye will flower well in rather dense shade but takes on its best form when grown in full sun with some afternoon shade on moist, well-drained soil. It is native along moist stream banks and is not very drought-tolerant.
The cultivar 'Atrosanguinea' has deeper red flowers. 'Humilis' is a low or prostrate shrub with small panicles of red flowers. Hybrids between Aesculus pavia x Aesculus sylvatica have been seen, bearing red and yellow flowers.
Red buckeye is easily grown from seed, with plants flowering after three years.
Pests and Diseases
No pests or diseases are of major concern.
Koeser, A. K., Hasing, G., Friedman, M. H., and Irving, R. B. 2015. Trees: North & Central Florida. University of Florida Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences.